10 Saltwater Fishing Tips: How to Catch Saltwater Fish


Taking the jump from freshwater to saltwater fishing is an exciting opportunity to expand your angling skills. With a ocean breeze to keep you cool and a sandy beach or pier beneath your feet, fishing on the sea is not only an interesting angling variation but also often a relaxing, scenic experience. Personally I love going tuna fishing and knowing that I might be able to hook a 200 pound fish.

Dipping your toes into any new activity can be intimidating at first, so to help you through your first attempt at saltwater fishing, we’ve put together some helpful tips and tricks to keep in mind before heading to the beach.

Have a read through our saltwater fishing tips below and let us know what you think in the comments.

What is Saltwater Fishing and Why is it So Popular?

Recreational saltwater fishing has been a popular activity for centuries. The term “saltwater fishing” encompasses a wide range of angling activities that take place on or near an ocean. It can be done from a boat, pier, or beach. 

While there is no real winner between freshwater and saltwater fishing, anglers who prefer ocean fishing have a good reason. There are huge variations of fish that live in saltwater, and they’re often bigger and put up a spirited fight, which can make the experience even more exciting.

There is also more variety in the styles of angling available to saltwater fishermen – of course, you could stick to the pier, boat, and surf fishing, but saltwater fishing also opens up the opportunity for deep water angling, scuba, or snorkel spear fishing. Because 71 percent of Earth’s surface is covered in water, saltwater fishing is super accessible, and there are an endless amount of hunting grounds to explore.

Some of the most popular saltwater fishing species to target include:

  • Marlin
  • Sailfish
  • Tuna
  • Coral Trout
  • Mackerel
  • Ocean Perch
  • Cobia
  • Snapper
  • Dolphin Fish
  • Seabass
  • Cod

10 Saltwater Fishing Tips and Tricks

While you could easily spend hours researching the best methods and practices for saltwater fishing, your search can get very overwhelming very quickly. To give you a boost in your process, we’ve put together ten of the most important tips and tricks to keep in mind on your first day at sea. 

1. Do Not Get Caught Using the Wrong Knot

An ineffective fishing knot can be a serious obstacle between you and your next catch. There are many different knot styles that are used regularly in saltwater angling, but the first step to success is to identify your fishing rig. Your rig should correspond with the fish species you’re targeting and knot style will follow. The following are a few of the most popular knots for saltwater fishing:

Bristol Knot:

A fairly simple knot made for streamlining, the Bristol (sometimes referred to as “no-name knot”), is used to connect a monofilament leader and a braided double line. This knot is great because it passes through rod guides easily and is a simple way to attach leader material to a class tippet loop.

Albright Knot:

An Albright is a go-to knot for novice saltwater anglers, as it is easy to construct and super versatile. It can be used to attach a leader to wire, or to weight a light monofilament with a heavier line.

Clinch Knot:

The clinch is arguably the most popular fishing knot. While it doesn’t work well with braided line, it’s a great pick for monofilament. It ties quickly and is a reliable knot for a variety of angling activities.

I cannot count the number of fish that I have lost due to poorly tied knots – and that is an experience you don’t want to repeat.

2. Learn from the Locals

If you’re new to an area or are traveling to a far-off ocean destination for an angling excursion, it can be tough to know where to start. Do some research about the area you’ll be fishing in before jetting off to give you the best chance at a big catch. There are many online mapping resources that can assist you in terms of finding fish hot spots, but you should also know what fish species frequent the area, their bait preferences, etc.

In an unfamiliar place, the simplest (and often most effective) solution to finding a great fishing spot is to ask the locals. Have a chat with a local tackle shop employee and they can direct you to popular spots as well as hideaways that might not be found online. Odds are, a local to the area would probably have a better idea about the best fishing for the current season and bait tips, too.

3. Keep Live Bait Fresh & Healthy

While lure fishing is a popular choice among anglers, sometimes, live bait just cannot be beaten, especially in salt water. The pain of using live bait, however, is the task of keeping it fresh. And yes, this is important if you want a couple of big fish in your boat at the end of the day.

The natural look, motion, scent, and other qualities of live bait make it virtually irresistible to predators. To keep your bait in good condition before use, take special care in the balance of water temperature and oxygen.

On warm days, when oxygen levels in the water are low, a good solution is to add ice or a frozen object into your bait container, which will help keep the bait at a temperature range that is similar to the ocean you’re fishing from.

Water flow can also assist in keeping your bait in good shape. While too much current in your bait container can jostle the bait enough to remove scales and exhaust them, a small amount can be helpful in flushing unwanted impurities from the tank.

4. Look for Ocean Floor Structure 

Just like us humans, fish need a little structure in their lives as well. Underwater structures are, more often than not, places that fish love to hang out. Rather than chilling along the ocean floor, fish tend to congregate near drop-offs, ridges, sunken logs, and natural structures, or along sandbars.

Fishing along reefs is a good bet and many places will have man-made structures near the shore where fish have made a home. A helpful tip is to find out which fish species’ you’d like to target, and follow up by finding their structure preferences, and finally, research where you can find those particular structures.

There are many online resources including anglers forums or underwater maps that can assist you in finding the underwater structures you’re searching for. Area locals can also be helpful in this search.

5. Keep the Fish Population Healthy

The Earth is in dire need of some TLC (Tender Love and Care) and there’s no doubt that commercial fishing has definitely taken a toll on our planet. For this reason, it’s important that recreational saltwater angling is done with conscious respect for the environment.

Catch and release is one way to keep the oceans full of life. If you’ll be practicing this, bring along a separate set of gear that will do less harm to the fish in the process of angling. This includes de-barbed hooks, in-line hooks, or lures without treble hooks.

To avoid damaging a fish’s protective skin coating, make sure that any surface that the fish will potentially touch is coated with a generous amount of water. Do not use a harsh cloth rag to handle a fish and make sure your hands are wet before touching. Hold the catch firmly, but do not touch the gills or jaw (without other support) — this can cause life-harming damage.

Another way to keep the oceans safe is to be aware of the waste you are creating. Never throw garbage or waste into the water, always clean up after yourself, and secure any plastic material that may be blown into the ocean accidentally.

You should also be aware that when deep-sea fishing bringing a fish up to the surface quickly can kill it due to the pressure change. Make sure you are fishing at depths that allows you to release your catch if you don’t intend to eat it.

6. Clean Your Tools Properly

If you’ve had metal objects around ocean water, you’ve probably noticed that salt water and metal materials do not mix. The combination of salt, moisture, and oxygen corrodes into rust. Angling equipment that isn’t properly taken care of after use in the ocean can weaken quickly, resulting in damage.

While the majority of saltwater rods and reels are made with highly corrosive-resistant material, that doesn’t mean you should skimp on maintenance. Keep a bottle of fresh water handy and use this to rinse your reels throughout a day on the water to prevent excess salt build-up. You can also do this with lures to keep them fresh. 

After a day on the water, wash all the gear that was near the ocean with a gentle soap and warm water. Rinse the items thoroughly and make sure all the items are fully dry before storing. Inspecting all gear for salt build-up in nooks and crannies and removing such build-up can help avoid unnecessary damage.

7. Avoid Sticky Drag

All spinning reels have something called a “drag” system, put in place to help an angler have more control over their catch and keep a line from breaking. Sticky drag is an undesirable circumstance with a drag system that occurs with the drag function begins to stick, resulting in a jerky tension, a major pain when it comes to pulling in fish.

When you have a big fish on the line, a sticky drag can cause you to lose it in a heartbeat. It often results in a broken line, as the pressure from a pulling fish creates too much tension to handle. To avoid this problem, drag maintenance is essential.

Every 30 uses or so, you should be taking apart your reel to service and wash it. Use a bucket of warm water and gentle soap and a sponge and take the time to clean it thoroughly. The most important part after this is drying completely. Test out the drag to make sure it is silky smooth before risking your luck with a big fish.

8. Use the Correct Line

There are a couple of different lines that are commonly used for saltwater angling, including monofilament lines, braided lines, and fluorocarbon lines. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Monofilament lines are an attractive pick among some anglers because they are fairly inexpensive, they cast really well out of the spool, and their thin nature makes them great for tying knots. The disadvantage of monofilament is the stretch. Because it’s flexible, it stretches easily and can hold more memory than desirable.

Braided lines are one of the most popular picks among anglers due to their strength and reliability. They tend to be a little more expensive than monofilament line, but their design offers little to no stretch, a major plus. Knotting can be a little more difficult with braided lines as they tend to be slippery, but if you can tie correctly, you’ll be left with a super strong knot.

Fluorocarbon line’s main draw has to do with the refractive nature of the material, which makes it look nearly invisible underwater. The material is also super-durable and abrasion-resistant, so there’s little need to worry about breakage here.

9. Break In a New Reel

Despite what you might think, a new reel can tend to be a little sticky on first use. For this reason, it’s pretty important to “break-it-in” before taking it straight out to the water. Don’t risk a major catch by using a reel that you’re unfamiliar with.

Start by arranging your drag setting in a way that will work best for the species of fish you’d like to target. If it’s still not performing the way you’d like it to, disassemble the reel. From there, you can clean out the lube that was used by the manufacturer (which may or may not be affecting the performance) and lightly grease the structures with your own, quality-made lubricant.

While there’s no way to know if a reel will work to its best ability straight out of the box without testing it, if you’re particularly worried about it, give it a good grease and it should work just fine.

10. Use Data and Charts to Your Advantage

Do yourself a favor before hitting the water and break out your inner oceanographer. Though you may be drawn to the idea of jumping in the boat right away, a little research into the data about the water you’ll be fishing in can go a long way.

Online resources will be your best buddy in this process; more often than not, they’re free and fairly easy to use. Websites like Fishtrack or Ripcharts have a ton of data available for use. You can also purchase offshore fishing charts in a physical map form from outdoor shops if you need something more tangible.

If you can afford it, a fish finder is an incredible investment. These high tech devices, which utilize geographic mapping and sonar technology, have become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades. While they were once only used by the pros, they’re starting to show up more and more in the common angler’s tackle box. The older generations may think that using fish finders is cheating, but innovation is inevitable, right? Might as well jump on it.

Grab your rod and flip flops, the ocean is calling. If you’ve been hesitating to turn to saltwater angling, there’s no better time than now. The vastness of the world’s oceans adds an extra element of excitement to the sport– there’s truly no shortage of areas to explore. Along with the feisty nature of saltwater fish and the thrill of the wind and waves, you’re in for an adventure of the lifetime, every time.

Hopefully, this article of saltwater fishing tips gave you a little extra courage in your journey – remember, above all, to keep the ocean clean and respect the ecosystem from which you benefit.

Happy fishing! 

Photo of author

Russ Egan

Russ is an avid fisherman. He has fished all over the world for more than two decades, primarily for saltwater game fish but also for local trophy fish. Russ writes reviews for all of his fishing gear to help others achieve their own fishing goals. His favorite reel is a Shimano Curado Baitcaster. His dream is to catch a Black Marlin.